Eat well this festive season

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The season of indulgence has now begun, with a range of festivals making it difficult to stick to a healthy food
routine writes GEETA KHURANA in our October (1) 2012 issue


















The festival season is here again with Ganesh Chaturthi to Bhai Duj, and just like in India, they can never be complete without special foods and good hospitality. With so much variety available as well as some traditional foods that are only cooked on these particular festivals, it sometimes becomes difficult to avoid high calorie festive foods. This is the time when even the most disciplined person lets loose. And at this
time of the year, anyone even talking about a diet or healthy eating is deemed to be most unpopular.

But if you have managed to lose weight or keep it off this season, or are a diabetic or have high blood pressure or cholesterol, it becomes even more imperative to eat healthy as after the feasting is over, you might end up with many more problems than you started with. Counting calories at festivals is a big challenge. It has been seen over the years that after the festival season, the rate of obesity goes up, sugar control of diabetics goes down and those who are predisposed to develop diabetes also show signs of contracting diabetes. Experts warn that festival fun – and not the least, the culture of sweet-eating that peaks then – can help trigger long-term health problems, with diabetes only the start. In fact, India is the diabetes capital of the world, as it hosts the most diabetics among all nations.But with festivities following each other during this time, it is very difficult to stay focused and adhere to a strict diet schedule. It might start with a bite here and a bite there and before we know it, we have eaten a plate full of extra calories by the end of the day.
If you keep in mind a few points, you need not miss out all the fun and they might help in avoid health problems later.

Smaller portions
Have smaller portion sizes of sweets and high calorie foods. Even while visiting friends and families, pick up smaller pieces rather than overindulging or being rude and completely refusing. Instead of loading your plate to the brim with sweets, just take a few, may be one or two, and eat them slowly and gradually. Try to use smaller plates and avoid second helpings.

Give away the extras goodies
Do not eat sweets and mithai just because they are there or going bad because no one else is eating them. It is better to throw away a few pieces of mithai rather than putting your health at risk. Or take the extra sweets to your workplace, to be enjoyed by your multicultural colleagues who would definitely love a taste of Indian tradition.

Avoid aerated drinks
Avoid having aerated drinks, sweetened beverages and fizzy drinks, which only add unnecessary calories. Instead, have natural refreshing drinks like lemon juice, jaljeera, coconut water, green tea or fruit juice. Drink plenty of water, the healthiest drink available!

Reduced fat foods
If you are making sweets yourself, use low fat ingredients like low fat milk and other dairy products. Use natural sweeteners like honey and dates to make sweets, and avoid using refined sugar or artificial sweeteners. But even if you use low fat products, do not over-consume. Plan recipes that are low in calories and set an example for others to follow. When eating out, choose roasted or baked, grilled or barbequed snacks instead of fried ones.

Avoid skipping meals
Do not skip meals to compensate for the extra calories. You always tend to have more cravings and overeat on an empty stomach. Rather, try to nibble on healthy snacks like salads, sprouts, fruit and nuts to avoid overeating at dinner parties or bingeing on unhealthy snacks.

Snack healthy

Include fresh fruits, yogurt dips with crackers, nuts, raw salads, soups, roasted meats and chicken, soups as part of your snacks and meals instead of fried, oily and high sugar foods and snacks. Do not skip out on sweets completely, but adding fruits and nuts to the plate may help balance the calories. You could also have a light snack before visiting, to avoid consuming high calorie foods there.

Gift healthy
Set an example by gifting healthy foods such as baskets of fruit, dried fruit, nuts or candles instead of sweets or chocolates.

Limit alcohol intake
Avoid consuming too much alcohol at parties. Sip on some fruit juices or water in between drinks or go slow on drinks to avoid refilling. And make sure you snack in moderation and snack healthy with alcohol, as that is where you add the maximum calories.

Exercise
No matter how busy you are or how late you might have slept the night before, do not miss your exercise schedule. Nothing can be more harmful than missing exercise at this time. Most of us tend to skip our daily exercise during festivals to catch up on sleep or go visiting. But exercise is very important to burn out the extra calories that have been consumed and sometimes if we break our routine it takes a while to get back on track.

Festivals and celebrations should be to mingle and socialize with friends and not give us an excuse to binge eating. Remember moderation is the key to enjoy festive food and still keep the weighing scales in balance.


Have you ever been bored of eating the same old sabzi and chapatti or rice and dal? No doubt after a long day, none of us have the energy to trouble our minds with new recipes. But we still want to eat something different and tasty without the hassle of spending long hours in the kitchen. So here are some easy-to-cook recipes from Singapore, the place known globally as the ‘food heaven’. Eating good food is a national pastime in this country and a common topic of conversation among Singaporeans, who are simply obsessed with eating. With a rich, multicultural heritage you are spoilt for choice when eating out, with a wide assortment of Malay, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian, Peranakan and western cuisines. Sometimes they are fused together to make up a unique dish! Eating out is a daily routine for Singaporeans with long queues outside famous hawker stalls during lunch or dinnertime. In fact, the majority even eat five to six meals a day and yet, the country is not on the list of obese nations! So try out these recipes and enjoy a taste of Singapore.


Char Kway Teow
This dish is made from flat rice noodles (kway teow) and is typically a hawker stall dish in Singapore and Malaysia. This spicy version of noodles can be prepared as soon as the ingredients are assembled. However, it is important not to overcook the vegetables and noodles, as this can affect the final flavour.

1 packet pre-cooked flat rice noodles
1 bunch spinach, washed and cut in 3cm length
1 cup bean sprouts
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 small hard cube of tofu
1 sliced red chilli
2-3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 lemon for serving
Oil for cooking and frying
2 tablespoons chilli paste
For the rough ground chilli paste:
2-3 fresh red chillies
4-5 cloves garlic
1 small piece ginger
1 tbsp lemongrass chopped
1-2 tsp sugar
2-3 tbsp vinegar or lemon juice
Salt to taste

Take the pre-cooked noodles from the packet and separate them. Dry the tofu by pressing it lightly between a muslin cloth or paper towel. Cut into medium-sized cubes and shallow fry in hot oil until golden brown. Drain excess oil on a paper towel. Next, fry the rough ground chilli paste in hot oil for a few seconds, then add the chilli and mushrooms, cook for a minute. Add the kway teow noodles, soy sauce, tofu, spinach and bean sprouts. Cook till all the ingredients are mixed thoroughly. Serve hot with lemon wedges on the side.


Fried brown rice
As we are all so health conscious nowadays and are constantly trying to lose weight, why not try this variation of fried brown rice? As a vegetarian, I substitute meat with mock meat (made from soy), which is commonly used in vegetarian Chinese cuisine.

2 cups Macro brand cooked brown rice
½ cup mock meat, char siu pork (available in the frozen section of any Asian grocery store)
2 cups chopped mixed vegetables of your choice
½ cup cooked bean sprouts
1 cup sliced mushroom
1 hard block of tofu, cubed and shallow fried
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp light soy sauce
Oil for cooking

Heat the oil on high flame in a non-stick pan and cook the mock meat till tender. Add the vegetables, stir fry for a few minutes till just tender, but still crispy. Once cooked, add the brown rice, bean sprouts, soy sauces and tofu. Cover and cook for a few minutes till the rice absorbs all the flavours. Serve hot with chopped fresh red chilli in soy sauce on the side.


Tahu Goreng
This is a generic name for any type of fried tofu, commonly prepared in Indonesia, Malysia and Singapore. This dish is usually prepared at hawker stalls, with the fried tofu covered in a spicy-sweet-sour peanut sauce which leaves a lasting impression on your tongue. Only the tofu needs cooking and the sauce can be made in advance and stored in the fridge, making it an easy meal to prepare. You can cook the tofu by steaming or shallow frying with minimal oil, for a healthier version.

1 block of fresh hard tofu
(per person)
1 packet bean sprouts
1 continental cucumber,
cut into thin triangles
2 cups peanuts, roasted and skinned
5-6 garlic cloves
2 fresh red chillies
1-2 tsp sugar or gula melaka
(palm sugar)
2-3 tbsp fresh lemon juice or tamarind water
2-3 tsp dark soy sauce

For the peanut sauce:
Crush the peanuts coarsely in a grinder, ensure that the result is not too fine. Pound the garlic and chilli in a mortar and pestle. Mix together the crushed peanuts, garlic chilli paste, soy sauce, lemon juice and sugar. Add just enough water to create a pouring consistency for the sauce. Keep aside for an hour or two before serving.

Cook the tofu by steaming or frying. The traditional way of cooking tofu is by deep-frying the block and then cutting it into cubes, but you can use the healthier option. Dip the bean sprouts in hot water for a few seconds and drain. Serve the cooked tofu with the delicious sweet and sour peanut sauce topped with cucumber and bean sprouts.

You could let the tofu sit on a thick paper towel or a muslin cloth, which will help absorb excess water to minimize splattering in oil. All ingredients for these recipes can be found in any Asian grocery store.



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